BOZEMAN — Bozeman senior and University of Washington commit Nathan Neil came into this cross country season with high goals but ones he knew he could achieve.
On the top of that list was to win state, which he did in October in Kalispell. He wanted to set a record time with his finish as well, and that was more than managed.
With a final time of 14:45, he beat the record by nearly 40 seconds.
"I felt like I was the guy that was supposed to win, and I was really confident that I was going to," Neil said. "And so I came into the race with a goal in mind to beat the state record. Throughout the entire race, I ended up just being able to hold my pace pretty well by myself and ended up beating the record by a substantial amount, which felt good."
The dominant results each meet this fall came from a season of dedicated hard work, traced back to a conversation with Bozeman cross country coach Casey Jermyn in the preseason.
"We had time when we were going up this old gravel road, and we were kind of talking season and what it was going to look like," Jermyn recalled. "We were both having an open conversation on some of his goals, what he wanted to accomplish and what would training look like to accomplish those goals. And it was definitely going to be a little more intense, a little more volume than he’s ever done, and frankly what I have a lot of people that go through the program do, and he was up for the challenge."
After a solid sophomore track season, Neil made the jump from soccer to cross country in the fall of his junior year. He saw more of a future in running and putting his trust in his coach, which has paid off.
"My main focus was just to trust the process and do exactly what Casey tells me to do, and that really hasn’t let me down," Neil said. "He’s just a really smart guy. He has a lot of wisdom in running."
Another factor in driving him to win was knowing the pain of second-place finishes — something he faced last year running alongside teammate Weston Brown.
But the competition and bond the two had last year set Neil up to take over on the course this year.
"Every day (Brown) was ready to work, and if I wasn’t I was going to get destroyed by him, and so I had to be ready to go every day," Neil explained. "Every workout was a grind, and that was a really big learning experience for me. It was just a really good way to come into the sport with someone else who was ready to work really hard every day."
Neil was next to carve his name into the strong legacy of the Bozeman High cross country program.
"Being able to train together at that really high level, I think really kind of conditioned him and taught him what he needed to do to reach that elite level," Jermyn said. "I think that year really helped him for this year, and this year you’re seeing him step up to really another level."
A major area of Neil’s game that saw strides this season has come from the mental side of it, something so important in each and every race.
"It’s easy to line up and just race hard, but to really learn how to race and strategically race and pace yourself and how the different races feel on the track versus cross country," Jermyn said, "you’ve really seen him hone that in this year."
As for Neil’s future, he’ll continue his running career at the University of Washington next year. He was between the Huskies and Gonzaga but felt the most at home with UW.
"I just saw myself there," Neil said when explaining why he chose UW. "I saw myself gelling really well there, and everyone tells you the decision is going to come down to your gut feeling, so my gut feeling told me to go to Washington. That’s what I did."
And for the near future, his next race is the NXR, the Nike Regional Meet, on Nov. 11 in Boise, Idaho. He’s looking to have another great performance there and qualify for Nationals.